The scale of the dominance of the big four supermarkets has been highlighted by new research showing at least 544 stores were approved in the UK over the past two years.

BBC research has revealed that planing authorities in England gave Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisions permission for at least 480 stores in England in the two years to 1 November. 

At least 67 stores were approved in Scotland, 22 in Wales and eight in Northern Ireland. The BBC Panorama programme, which broadcasts the research on Wednesday evening, claimed one of the big four gets planning permission for a new store “every working day of the year”.

Based on responses from the councils that responded to the BBC study, the most successful applicant for planning permission was Tesco, which had at least 392 stores approved. Sainsbury’s had 111 stores approved, Morrisons had 41 and Asda 33. London had the highest number of proposed new supermarkets with 110.

Chef and food campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (pictured) told Panorama: “Such is the power of the supermarkets, they are effectively rearranging the entire landscape to suit their business practices. 

“You don’t need to explain the attraction of cheap food, everybody likes saving money, but the effect of that simple drive to bring down price – it’s massively altering the way we produce food, the scale on which we produce food.”

But the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said there was nothing exceptional about the current rate of growth.

BCR director general Stephen Robertson said: “It’s misleading to imply 250 additional supermarkets are being approved every year. The figures don’t allow for store closures and many of the new shops are actually small convenience stores.”